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Ground Breakers Review: A strategy game of good ideas that's poorly balanced

Ground Breakers has interesting and unique mechanics that are dragged down by gameplay imbalance and grinding.

Ground Breakers is an indie turn-based strategy game developed and published by UnitedIndie. The game released from Early Access June 15th, 2016. Ground Breakers offers players a few unique mechanics and enough content to keep them busy for countless hours. The game does, however, become a grind -- and while there is lots of content, the battles become very repetitive.

Dominate the World

Over two hundred years ago, the world as we know it was destroyed due to the melting of the polar icecaps. With the water levels rising, enormous cubes were constructed, capable of sustaining life. This new world is controlled by corporations, all aiming to dominate.

The player is the new CEO of one of the world’s corporations, all of whom are looking to achieve world domination. In order to achieve this, they must destroy the competition using robots to combat each other. In order to be the best, the corporations must constantly build new and better robots and control new territory throughout the world.

With resources, research, and military power coming from the controlled territory, they become ever more powerful. Can you lead your corporation to victory and dominate the world?

While there is a story to be found in Ground Breakers, it is minimal. The game contains little more than what I have mentioned above, but does contain a subplot for the Infinity Mine. Ground Breakers is almost all about gameplay and strategy over the story. If you are looking for an in-depth storyline, you won’t find it here.

Plenty of game modes 

Ground Breakers' story may not be its highlight, but what it offers in game modes does make up for it. In total, there are four game modes to play, along with the tutorial levels for beginners. The first of the four is the Scenario mode. The scenario is where the player battles against a character of their choice in order to win new computer chips for their robots.

At the beginning of the game there will only be a few characters available to battle but as they encounter new ones, they unlock. Each character has varying rewards, difficulty levels, and battle rules.

Despite each character having various robots to battle and difficulty settings, they do become repetitive and stale. It is the perfect mode for gaining chips or having a single battle from time to time, but it doesn't take long before they become monotonous.

The second mode is the Campaign, which allows the player to choose how many opponents they face off against, the AI difficulty, and the size of the world. The object is to dominate the entire world by defeating the opposition. This is done by taking control of new areas to increase the economy, tech and military levels of the corporation, each granting new bonuses. 

Each campaign is a brand new and unique map from the last, which does indeed keep things fresh to a certain degree. From a strategy point of view, it isn't that different from other turn-based titles such as Civilisation or Emerge. But it's not as in-depth as those two games. Though that is not necessarily a bad thing, it does lack what makes such games addictive, making its appeal very short-lived.

 

The third mode, Infinity Mine, is the primary mode for collecting robot parts needed to craft new robots and upgrade old ones. It contains its own sub-plot along with 100 levels. Each level contains its own set of enemy robots which the player must defeat.

Upon destroying a robot they drop parts which the player can collect and use to build new robots. The deeper into the mine the player goes, the better the parts they find. At the start, they find only Iron parts while later they begin to find Silver, Gold and more.

It is by far the most interesting of the modes available to play, due to its sub-story along with it being the primary source of your robotic parts. Even though it is the most interesting, its difficulty levels are very much imbalanced.

There are huge jumps in difficulty from levels 1-5 and 5-10. It makes getting the robotic parts very difficult and painful, as the chances of surviving are slim -- resulting in frustration. It drags down one of the most exciting and unique features of the game.

 

The final mode is Multiplayer, where players combat each other in 5V5 battles. Aside from that, I cannot comment any further on the multiplayer, as I will be damned if I am creating a separate account just to play online.

If I was to speculate, multiplayer would not be that different from any single player battle. The only difference being that you are playing against another player as oppose to an AI.

While each game mode brings something new and interesting, its intrigue is short-lived. Each mode begins to become more and more repetitive. The more you play, the more they lose what intrigue they had at the beginning. While the intrigue lasts, however, there is fun to be had from each of the modes. 

Unique mechanics ruined by repetitive and imbalanced combat

The varying game modes are fun but after some time, the combat is what begins to really make them repetitive more than anything else. While the combat has some interesting and unique mechanics, overall it offers little but the same thing over and over again.

There are a variety of different battle environments, from spring to lava to water. And each environment has new and unique rules. For instance, every time a unit moves from a position in the spring environment, a spring pad appears. If a unit lands on one of the springs, it flings them into the air randomly landing them at some point on the battlefield.

Though an interesting mechanic, I found it had little impact on the battles overall. The chance of any units landing on one is slim, particularly those that are player controlled. The other environments too offer little impact.

Each battle has its own set of rules, such as Hijacker or a simple 5V5 battle. A 5V5 battle is five robots against five robots. The team that wins is either those with the most kills -- or the team that wipes out the entire enemy team before any units can respawn.

Hijacker is where a random unit becomes hijacked. The player must at all costs keep that unit alive until the battle time reaches its end. The rules do keep things varied for a while, but it isn’t long before they begin to feel stale and old -- much like many other aspects of the game.

One of the major selling points of the game is that each and every unit has its own unique skill sets. This is indeed true -- and while it is the perfect feature for any strategy game, there is an imbalance in skills. I feel that some have too long a range, others are not powerful enough, and others are overpowering.

An example of this is the Cablenex unit and its Long Neck Big Mouth skill. The skill has a huge range on it, allowing it to attack from a distance even ranged units have trouble meeting. Though this is not so much a problem in normal battles, in the Infinity Mines, things begin to get very squeaky.

Facing off against three or four of these units at the same time is a horrifying sight, as they each can use the skill as their first attack. This attack deals 60 damage a hit, more than enough to wipe out a unit in one shot and tougher units in two.

Once a unit is destroyed, there is no getting it back during a battle within the Mines. In the first turn alone you lose units faster than you can scream “Oh crap” at the screen. So, yes, unit balance is a major issue with skills.

There is one more mechanic which does add to the overall battle system, however. In some battles on the battle timer, there will be a C icon along the line. Once the timer reaches this icon, all the units have their third skill unlocked.

While it is random as to whether a battle will have this mechanic or not, it never the less is exhilarating. The third skill on each unit can be a real battle changer for either side. With this mechanic unlocked, if players have the right units and plan, they can make a comeback of the century.

Overall what we have with Ground Breakers is a combat system that is interesting and has some unique mechanics. Unfortunately, despite these mechanics, they are let down by repetitive and imbalanced combat. It is great if you are looking to kill 15-20 minutes of your time, but not for long gaming sessions due to frustration and repetitiveness.

Hope you don’t mind the grind

As far as strategy games go, this is quite a unique feature. As explained above, the player collects parts and chips in order to build and upgrade their robots. Each robot requires specific parts in order to craft, and which parts you get in each box is completely random. The chips, however, work differently from parts.

While destroying other characters robots throughout the game, they will drop chips. Alternatively, they can be obtained by winning scenario battles. Chips are then implanted into the robots to give them bonuses such as higher damage, higher health and more. Each chip is a different shape which must be placed into the space given. It’s like playing Tetris but with a mini box.

Each chip can be downsized by one square using special emblems obtained through winning battles. They start at four squares and can be downsized to just one allowing adding many more chips to each robot. Chips come in a variety of different rarities.

The rarer the chip is, the better the bonus it contains, but the more expensive it is to downsize. You can also combine several chips together to create a more powerful one.

In order to gain the blueprints for new robots the player has to level up their character. This is done by winning battles and completing levels in the Infinity Mine. The leveling system is where the game’s biggest problem comes into play.

Your characters level is used to progress in many ways. This progression includes obtaining new robots and the ability to add more powerful chips which improve the players robots overall stats. While all the above mentioned is sound and leads to rewarding the player for their effort, the amount of time it takes is not fun.

In eight hours of playing the game, between completing tutorials and learning how everything works and progressing a bit, I only got to level nine. I did indeed take my time -- but nevertheless; I can only begin to imagine what it takes later on for a level up.

Without being able to equip better chips, it makes going deeper into the mine harder, making upgrading robots harder. It overall leads to slow progression that would test all but the most patient of grinders.

A strategy game of good ideas yet poor balance

Ground Breakers has everything it needs to be a rock solid strategy game. It has visuals that are appealing, a funky soundtrack to say the least and has a butt load of content. Some of the mechanics are unique and in certain cases quite exhilarating.

The problem is that it takes too long to get major progression and the unit’s skills need tweaking. Strategy experts will most likely find some genius way of progressing quickly, but for the average gamer with a fascination for strategy games (like me), it will be painfully slow.

I love what Ground Breakers is attempting to do. It is trying to modernize what is an old combat system, like that used in Vandal Hearts. While it does achieve this to some degree, it fails in others. It is an interesting title but one that I believe only strategy veterans and hardcore grinders will ultimately enjoy. For me, it is something I would play in very small doses.

Ground Breakers is available to buy on Steam for $9.99.

Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of a review.

Our Rating
6
Ground Breakers has interesting and unique mechanics that are dragged down by gameplay imbalance and grinding.
Reviewed On: PC
Published Jun. 24th 2016

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